Social Media Strategy: A Small Nonprofit's Experience

Post by Frank Barry - 11.13.2009 - Follow me on Twitter

Our social media strategy series continues with Mickey Gomez from the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County.  Let’s start by pointing out that the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County (VCSHC) is a small nonprofit clearinghouse for volunteerism that connects potential volunteers with local nonprofit and governmental agencies. Their annual budget is approximately $150,000 and there are only two (2) full time employees. Needless to say they don’t have a lot of resources to pull from. How does social media help you ask?


The Volunteer Center serving Howard CountyTheir mission is connecting people directly with nonprofits. One of their largest ongoing challenges is developing a community around the VCSHC. Inset social media! Social media helps them build community and connect with people in ways they’ve not been able to before.  

Mickey shares some of her insights with us below …


Why did you decide to start using social media?

Community outreach and engagement are essential components of the VCSHC’s mission. In the fall of 2008, I started researching social media for the purpose of broadening our outreach efforts. Given our limited resources, I was seeking an alternative means of outreach that would allow us to expand and enhance ongoing efforts. Also, based on previous constituent surveys, I wanted to create a place to connect with our audience, a place where they would participate in ongoing conversations about their volunteer needs and experiences.


How did you come up with your current social media strategy?

By jumping in! I started a personal blog (first in Blogger, later switched to Wordpress) to track my experiences with different types of social media. I joined Facebook and Twitter. I created accounts on Slide Share, LinkedIn and YouTube. The more I learned as an individual using these services, the easier it was for me to see the potential benefits and pitfalls for our agency. From that, I was able to select a handful to start with (it would have been overwhelming otherwise) that appeared to be a good fit for our goals. Additionally, I knew that there were members of our target audience already using the selected services.

I also wanted our agency to use social media in order to model behavior for our partner agencies. Once I began to feel comfortable with various aspects of social media, I was able to start sharing tips, insights and resources with other nonprofit and community groups.


What obstacles did you have to overcome in “selling” social media to internal stakeholders?

The first obstacle was overcoming the fear of the unknown, followed closely by lack of technical knowledge. There was also concern about limited resources - how long would it take to manage these services?


What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve had to overcome?

When I first started, I couldn’t get my mind around the concept of promoting information that wasn’t about my nonprofit (or me!). It was counterintuitive and contrary to everything I’d been taught about marketing. It felt like I wasn’t using my time wisely, and with limited resources it felt wasteful. I quickly realized that I needed to forget everything I thought I knew about marketing (mind you, I’m not a marketing professional) and adapt to new methods of sharing information and connecting. 

I also struggled with balancing my personal identity with that of our brand, and of instilling an appropriate personality behind VCSHC posts and updates. In most cases I established two distinct presences in order to give myself the freedom I needed to share information effectively without compromising the integrity of our nonprofit’s brand. I keep our mission in mind when representing the VCSHC via social media and strive to share information that appeals to our audience. I also focus on interaction and relationship building by showing that there is a person behind the keyboard. 


What social media sites/tools are you using?

In early 2009, we added two blogs to our website – one targeted towards volunteers, one towards agencies. We added them to a community blog feed to maximize our exposure. We switched our website to a WordPress blog during the summer of 2009 in order to make it easier to manage and update. 

A student created a Facebook page for us in 2008, but we didn’t really begin to use it effectively until early 2009.  Many community members were already on Facebook, so it made sense for us to start actively promoting our page. Now we share information that I discover in feeds from friends, other pages, and via Twitter in addition to promoting our own programs and resources.

I have to admit, I didn’t understand the value of Twitter when I first started. It was simply good fortune that one of the first people I connected with was John Haydon, who quickly introduced me to a variety of talented folks promoting nonprofit best practices and resources. I searched for local community members on Twitter and followed them. 

SlideShare made sense as a platform from which to share our presentations because it’s so easy to upload content. As a result of sharing information this way, our 7 hosted presentations have received an excess of 4,500 combined views. They’ve been downloaded, embedded in other sites and favorited by a diverse range of individuals, spreading the VCSHC brand as far away as the UK and Europe.

We have an excellent local Ning called HoCoMoJo (Howard County Mobile Journalism) where we post information about events, trainings, awards, and programs. We need to use it more often – it’s a great resource!


How much time do you spend supporting your social media efforts?

I am the only staff member supporting social media at this point. Typically, when I’m in the office, I’ll have Tweetdeck open in the background. When I reach a break in my workflow, I’ll check both Twitter and Facebook to see if there is information I’d like to share from followers, fans, or friends. I limit the time I spend on each, and sometimes I’ll check again when I get home in the evening. I’d estimate I spend anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour each day monitoring and maintaining these efforts.


What’s been the biggest surprise, good or bad?

The incredible people I’ve met, both the ones here in my own community as well as those from across the country and around the world. I feel more connected with local colleagues and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get to know professional acquaintances better, so much so that many have turned into friends. 

Example: I met Gabe O’Neill from Kids Are Heroes via Twitter (thanks to John Haydon), and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was local (based in a neighboring county). I learned more about his inspiring organization and was thrilled to include a presentation by Kids Are Heroes in our summer program, Camp Make a Difference.



Mickey GomezThanks for spending some time with us Mickey. It’s great to hear from real life nonprofits of your size. I’m sure others will gain some valuable insight from what you’ve shared!




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